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Resist Attack on Air Rules

November 26, 2002

At least the Bush administration seems to have been embarrassed about its latest gutting of clean air regulations. Its announcement that it is eliminating some industrial emissions requirements came on a Friday afternoon -- a time that's a black hole for news -- in a conference room where no cameras were permitted and without the presence of Environmental Protection Agency chief Christie Whitman.

The result of the change will be dirtier air not just near the plants but in communities for miles around.

At the press conference, EPA Assistant Administrator Jeffrey R. Holmstead vaguely promised, "There will be emissions reductions as a result of the final rules that we are adopting today." However, at an earlier Senate briefing, Holmstead admitted that the agency hadn't done any computerized or statistical modeling to substantiate his Orwellian claim that allowing more pollution would encourage less pollution.

The administration's changes to the so-called New Source Review program, expected to take effect this week, are complex, but they boil down to giving plants more freedom to determine how their progress in reducing emissions is to be measured.

Previously, oil refineries, steel mills and paper processing plants had to show that a renovation would reduce emissions levels relative to the two most recent years. The new rules would allow those factories to use as a baseline their two worst-polluting years of the last decade.

Control of Congress now rests with the GOP, which received at least $11 million from power companies in the 2001-02 election cycle. That's why hope for the 30,000 Americans who die prematurely each year of causes related to industrial air pollution and for the many more afflicted with pollution-triggered asthma rests largely in the hands of moderate Republicans who were elected on pro-environment platforms.

Now is the time for these legislators, particularly Sens. Gordon Smith of Oregon, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, to back legislation being crafted by Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.) to overturn the new EPA rules.

States can also help fill the void. Governors across the country should follow the lead of New York's Republican governor, George Pataki, who promises to challenge the EPA changes in court.

Most Americans will not support policies that lead to more pollution. Nor are they likely to believe that pollution can be prettied up with rhetoric about more jobs, even though the administration tried to do just that in its press release, using the word "efficiency" five times in three paragraphs. It is because of those public sentiments that governors in statehouses and legislators in Washington, by protecting the environment against the Bush administration's assault, may protect their jobs as well.

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